Every June, I deliver a State of the County address. I believe it is important for me to present directly what is happening in county government and throughout Westmoreland County, highlighting our economy and important projects, as well as our challenges.
The following is the complete text of my address, delivered on June 6 in Latrobe…
Thank you for this annual opportunity for me to talk directly to you about the state of Westmoreland County and county government.
While there is always much to talk about…probably too much…my goal is to give you the facts and the stats on how we are doing, but also to highlight some things that you may not read about, or hear about, but should.
One constant that everyone is always concerned with is the status of our local economy. I am very pleased to report that Westmoreland County’s economy is growing and thriving. Our unemployment rate for April was down to 5.3 percent. That’s half a point lower than the state as a whole and a full point below the national unemployment rate. To put that in some longer term perspective, our 5.3 percent unemployment rate is nearly two full percentage points lower than two years ago.
Westmoreland County’s economic outlook continues to move in a positive direction and county government, specifically our Industrial Development Corporation, is a major reason.
In 2013, we sold another two parcels, totaling 28 acres, within our park system. Today we have 139 companies operating in our parks that employ almost 9,300 workers.
Here are just a few examples of our industrial parks economic influence…
In response to its continued success, Leed’s – known for its comprehensive line of promotional products – is building a new 200,000-square-foot facility at our Business & Research Park in Upper Burrell and Washington Townships. That company is quietly approaching nearly 1,000 employees.
At our Distribution Park North in East Huntingdon, XTL, Inc. – based out of Philadelphia – is planning construction of a new 100,000-square-foot facility. XTL Inc. designs, builds and operates automated storage and retrieval systems. 50 new jobs are expected there.
Also at that park, Kennametal is planning to build a new manufacturing facility. It will be an affiliated entity that will employ about 75.
And we are embarking now on a new 150-acre industrial park in Sewickley Township, near the Westinghouse Waltz Mills facility. We are beginning a nearly $3 million sewage investment to facilitate that development, with the much need side benefit being public sewage for the 750 residents of the village of Yukon.
Our redeveloped brownfield parks are continuing to make a difference in our downtown areas.
For example, at South Greensburg Commons, Asset Genie has signed an additional three years on its lease, which is good news for that company’s 50 employees.
In Mount Pleasant, Early American Pittsburgh – A family-owned candle manufacturing company – is moving its operations from Allegheny County to our redeveloped Glass Centre complex.
And food producer DeLallo Company is now leasing space at our Jeannette Industrial Park as that local company gains more and more national prominence.
Also in Jeannette, we continue to work through the very complex legal issues to take ownership of the former Monsour Hospital and Jeannette Glass site – two long-term eyesores that hamper progress in the city and threaten public safety.
Our redevelopment at RIDC Westmoreland – the former Sony facility – is taking shape. Aquion Energy has started full production of its revolutionary sodium ion batteries. Our Community College is opening later this summer a brand new state-of-the-art workforce and technical training facility. DNP continues to add space – and employees too. And most recently, national envelope maker Cenveo announced it will lease 300,000 square feet at the complex.
All told, by the end of the year this facility, which was practically abandoned just four years ago when I took office, will employ about 750 workers.
Of course, not all of the economic success stories in Westmoreland take place in our industrial parks, but through our business outreach efforts, quality of life and low taxes, our county is proving to be an attractive place for companies to grow and expand.
Fortune 500 company Express Scripts recently announced its plans to build a new facility right off the Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange in North Huntingdon, bringing with it an expected 400 new jobs to our area. The county is participating in a five-year partial tax abatement program to aide in this significant development. And in Monessen, Arcelor-Mittal – the world’s largest steel producer – recently reopened its coke plant in the city, bringing 50 people back to work and bringing on another 100.
Natural gas extraction, of course, remains a hot topic. Drilling has most certainly slowed throughout the state and the county. Last year, 28 Marcellus shale wells were drilled. There were 40 in 2012 and 59 in 2011. This year, only two wells have been drilled so far in the county. Despite the drop, permitting is increasing, and service companies continue to move into the area. Natural gas production is, and will continue to be, an important part of our economy.
Economic development, while immensely important, is just a part of what makes Westmoreland County what it is today. Sometimes it’s the areas we don’t develop – or take a different approach to – that improve our quality of life.
The Westmoreland Land Trust – an organization I helped found – has helped preserve more than 250 acres of land that has ecological, scenic or recreational value. Most recently, the Trust secured more than 74 acres to help expand Murrysville’s Duff Park. We are negotiating now on a fourth parcel – a greenway to connect Duff and Pleasant Valley Parks.
Our new Land Bank – a concept I’ve championed since the legislation was passed and pushed hard for its creation – is rethinking the way we approach tax delinquent and foreclosed properties. The land bank is working now with 10 communities – cities, boroughs and townships – throughout the county to acquire and repurpose these now wasted assets. It’s the single most important redevelopment tool we’ve created in a generation – the positive effects I believe we will begin seeing later this year.
Elsewhere, Westmoreland County Community College continues to grow. In addition to its Advanced Technology Training Center at our RIDC complex, it is also getting ready to open its new downtown Latrobe campus later this year. High-quality affordable education and urban redevelopment. Soon, this fine institution will be led by it first-ever female president, Dr. Tuesday Stanley.
Even with the end of flights to Dallas-Fort Worth, the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport’s relationship with Spirit Airlines continues to be a success story. About 250,000 people will fly from that airport this year to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Myrtle Beach. And I remind you all the number of commercial passengers in 2010 – the year I took office – was exactly zero. Also, this weekend marks the return of the Air Show – always a huge draw to our area. I hope you all plan to join me there.
County parks continue to offer key recreational and quality of life amenities, and they got better in the past year. Among this past year’s achievements — the opening of the second phase of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail from Slickville to Delmont, getting underway phase three of the Twin Lakes Parks expansion that includes an outdoor amphitheater and deck hockey area, and a record-breaking March for Parks that raised more than $100,000 for future improvements
The countywide Drug Task Force that I am co-chairing completed its first year of work, identifying important treatment, policy and legislative goals to combat the heroin and prescription drug epidemic plaguing our communities and over-burdening our justice system. It’s a public health crisis. The organizational work and the visioning are complete. This year, we start to turn back the number of people dying from overdoses.
Unfortunately, all of this good news is shrouded by a nearly $11 million budget deficit. That’s three times more than what it four years ago – again, when I first took office. That’s why I’ve voted against the past three budgets. It’s unsustainable.
But my opposition is more than symbolic. I’ve offered major reforms to the Commissioners’ office – getting rid of Commissioners Aides, prohibiting Commissioners from being reimbursed to drive our cars around the county, and ending a contract with high-priced lobbyist to do the work that we ourselves should be doing. Those simple actions alone would immediately save $350,000.
We have to lead by example if we are going to ask others to make sacrifices. I am already am. I have not hired an aide; I’m working harder. And I’ve never asked for mileage reimbursement. It’s time my colleagues joined me in leading by example. It’s the kind of leadership this county needs and that all of you deserve.
I hope this morning you’ve gained a better understanding and appreciation of the work county government does, the challenges we face and the state of Westmoreland County. I remain honored and humbled every day to be your Commissioner. I look forward to continuing to work for all of you and with all of you.